How different is it editing a TV news site?

The last year has been a journey for me, transitioning from a digital producer role at The Boston Globe’s Boston.com to editing a TV news website as the manager of web content.

Over the course of this year, I’ve had the great privilege to see and contribute to the inner workings of a very different brand of journalism and contemplate how different the broadcast ilk of my trade approach their digital properties vs. the print folks. Without factoring in the size of my station’s operation as it relates to other TV markets, there are some striking differences that deserve mentioning.

1. Dependent on Facebook — Not just Facebook, but really all social media. Unlike newspapers, which are often the bedrocks of the communities they reside in for news, the finicky nature of television viewers does not engender the type of repeat visitors and brand loyalty online that I’ve previously experienced. There is always a FOX, CBS, ABC and NBC to turn to when watching TV. In Boston, you can add in a regional news network (NECN) as well. Those options are always available to viewers. And when it comes time to seek out the news online, either to catch up on reading or for just a breakdown of any particular news event, TV audiences continue their perfidious behavior, playing around until they find their fill. So instead of a sort of dependence on the other guy to screw up, or for the local newspaper to possibly fail to fill the needs of its online readers, there is a heightened focus on audience development through social media. If one TV station can align itself with a concentrated brand awareness campaign and pay vigorous attention to best practices on key social media platforms (read: Facebook), that station’s site is more likely attract new and repeat readers, and in turn more viewers of its broadcast. (And make no mistake about it, Facebook is where this war is being waged.) I’ve come to see more clearly how all TV news sites have developed these come-from-behind strategies based on leveraging Facebook for readers. Obviously some stations have better strategies than others. But what’s been interesting for me is comparing how much more important Facebook is to TV than newspapers, especially considering all of the other aspects that go into a complete content strategy. Gone are the conversations about tremendous story angles to pursue and how to produce them online, replaced by the boilerplate, “this will do well on Facebook.” Unfortunately, that is the end of the conversation for some.

2. Whose byline is this? — As a digital editor, my job is to maintain the integrity and freshness of the site and our station’s mobile apps, then market our content aggressively on social media. That also means being first on breaking news and weather (a core tenet of our station). That’s the simple part. But what initially vexed me when I took on this job was the station’s reporting process. There is a dependence on the assignment desk for details, sources and contacts with public safety agencies that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. (Producers, to my surprise, spend a considerable amount of their time sketching out each show.) This is nothing like what you may experience at a newspaper or magazine and nor is it like the experiences others face at smaller stations from what I’m told. But it’s indicative of a vastly different process. For the digital producers on our site, the responsibility to write, self-edit, edit, and evangelize content is paramount. However, all of the details that make up their stories — the ones you see online at any given moment — are passed along from our assignment desk. Our digital team is fashioned more like the old re-write desk of newspaper lore. It’s also very similar to when our TV reporters file their stories. Their scripts are written for the broadcast, oftentimes in broadcast speak. Our digital producers edit those stories to align them with a more conventional online writing style (a custom mix of AP and our own). In contrast, in previous posts at newspapers I edited fully formed stories for online publication while working on my own stories on the side. So who’s doing the reporting? The station, of course. Pay no attention to the byline.

3. Mobile app wars — Again, the name of the game is audience development. If you don’t know where your audience is, you’re not paying attention. ComScore, one of the leading marketing and analytics companies in the country, pegged app use at 52 percent in December 2014. That’s not just consuming news. That’s 52 percent of all time users spend online. Strategically speaking, TV stations pay a good portion of their time considering their mobile apps with good reason, tweaking and toying with their mobile offerings in order to better serve their readers. That’s just not the case for print publishers, who have what I would consider a lackadaisical approach to their mobile apps. Pay attention to any ABC owned station and you’ll see very quickly how central the app is to the entire news organization, with push alerts coming at all times of the day. In Boston, you’re beginning to see every TV outlet move in this direction with tremendous benefits in page views and repeat visitors. The push/text alert is more important than ever. Digital staffers for newspapers sites are still catching up to this aggressive momentum.

Of course, there are many other obvious differences that speak to the online editing process in going from a newspaper to TV station. But in my journey, these few are considerably more important because of the success or failure they represent for any digital news operation. They are, what I would consider, translatable. A keen eye on audience development and editing will always be important and I’m glad it is a heightened focus in my current medium.

New job alert: Leaving Boston.com for Fox 25 News

Good news. I’ve accepted a position at Fox 25 News in Boston as a senior web producer, ending my almost five-year tenure with Boston.com and the Boston Globe.

I’ll be moving out of sports and into the news department again, which is a move I’ve been looking to make for some time. I’m excited about that and I’m excited about working for a broadcast outlet, which I believe is ripe for some digital innovating.

I think a lot of people will wonder why I would give up a job that lets me cover professional sports and travel. For me, it’s about growth. I am fortunate enough to have covered a Super Bowl, two Stanley Cup Finals and an NBA Finals while with Boston.com and the Globe. Only sports journalists in Boston are that lucky. So those are memories I will never forget. But I’m also very much interested in doing stories of impact, something I don’t think I can accomplish at Boston.com.

I’m certainly thankful to the many people at Boston.com and the Globe I’ve had a chance to work with. There’s way too many to name, but I’ll give a special shout out to Matt Pepin, Joe Sullivan, and Bob Holmes, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with very closely and getting to know well. I really want to thank them for their support over the years. And the same goes for past editors at the Globe and Boston.com like David Beard and Greg Lee. I really appreciate them, too, for what they’ve done for me.

So onward I go. Soon enough, you’ll find my work on myfoxboston.com. Just five more letters to remember.

My Top 10 best adult cartoons ever

Every now and then I have to jot my thoughts down in list form. It seems like it was only a matter of time before I started answering the big questions in life: Who is the greatest TV wing man of all-time? Why can’t dramas make it through a full season before being canceled? And what are the best adult cartoons ever?

I can’t answer all of those questions. I have to see how Ashton Kutcher performs on the revamped Two and a Half Men first. But in the interim, I can take a crack at at least one of them. So here, counting backward, is my Top 10 list of adult cartoons all-time.

10. Ren and Stimpy (Nickelodeon) — Dark, twisted and often tinged with homosexual influences, it was a shock it lasted as long as it did on Nickelodeon before moving to Spike and MTV and finally being removed from the air after delving into more and more questionable topics. The one thing that sticks with me all these years after the show’s cancellation is Ren freaking out and yelling his patented line, “You idiot!!!!!” Love it.

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Television is the new (new) enemy

24, Family Guy and old episodes of The Wire are currently my new enemy.

Television news and political commentary has become more and more out of bounds from mainstream thought and discourse, in my opinion. And it’s a good reason why I have given up on watching almost altogether.

But here’s the thing, I still turn on the TV for practically everything else. And I realized, ever so slowly, that my No. 1 enemy on a day-to-day basis is not the clock, but the television.

Oh, it romanced me with scenes of carnage and explosions (24), and it wined and dined me with comedic flair (South Park, Family Guy, etc.). And when I needed a dose of reality as perceived by urban America, it was there for me too (Southland, The Wire, etc.). And, finally, when I am implored to be wary of the news necessary for my job, ESPN and the locally run New England Sports Network (NESN) provide good background chatter.

But at the end of the day, the TV once again robs me cold, blind and stupid.
Continue reading “Television is the new (new) enemy”

Study Shows Diversity Fell in Television Newsroom Management in 2009

A release from the National Association of Black Journalists:

Second annual report by black journalists’ organization finds broadcast companies slow to improve diversity

TAMPA, FLA. – AUGUST 6, 2009 — The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Television Management Diversity Census released today reveals a discouraging lack of diversity in top tier newsroom management at seven of the nation’s major broadcast companies.

The census is a study of the ethnic make-up of news managers with editorial control at 111 stations owned by ABC, CBS, FOX, Hearst Argyle, Media General, NBC and Tribune. News managers are defined in the study as executive producers, managing editors, assistant news directors, news directors and general managers.

The 2009 census found that of 548 managers employed at the stations, only 65 or 11.7% are people of color. Last year’s study of stations owned by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC found that there were 61 managers of color at the companies’ 61 stations, or 16.6%. This year that percentage fell to 15.8%.

NABJ President Barbara Ciara, speaking at the opening ceremony of the NABJ Annual Convention & Career Fair in Tampa, characterized the results as disappointing considering the large talent pool of skilled black journalists available.

“These results should be a wake-up call to media owners who say they are serious about diversity in management,” said Ciara. “At the end of the day, we find the number of African Americans who actually have the ability to hire or influence content falls woefully short of the desired goals.”

NABJ shares the mission of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) in advocating for parity between the nation’s newsrooms and the communities they serve. This study, like ASNE’s April newsroom employment census did for newspapers, demonstrates that minorities lag far behind in decision-making roles at television stations.

“This is not about the economy costing black journalists their jobs,” said NABJ Region VI Director and report author Bob Butler. “When you have 111 stations and in those stations you have 65 managers of color, that’s not because of the economy. That tells you that there weren’t many there to begin with.”

The study also found that the economy was a major reason cited for cutbacks to newsroom positions, but that diversity was also adversely affected.

“I think to a certain extent the old boys network still exists in television,” said Butler of the challenge for current hiring managers to incorporate more diversity into management. “The manager will hire someone who he or she knows and will be less likely to hire somebody they don’t know.”

Ciara encourages the companies used for the study to consider NABJ as a resource to achieve a diverse population in their newsrooms.

“We have a huge talent pool of experienced media professionals within our organization,” she said. “All we have to do is connect the dots.”

The full 2009 NABJ Television Newsroom Management Diversity Census is available by visiting NABJ.org.

Editor’s note: I am a full member of NABJ and the Sacramento Black Journalists Association. For the 2009 Television Management Census, click here (.pdf).

5 intangibles needed to be a top-notch journalist

For every news organization, there’s a different set of skills necessary to be successful. But the intangibles usually remain the same. Here’s my stab at what’s necessary to be a top-notch journalist. Suggestions and recommendations are welcome in the comments.

  1. You have to be able to write coherently and quickly. Time is always pressed in a newsroom. While the ability to write poetry is applauded in the literary world, speed is applauded in journalism. But that doesn’t take away from needing clean copy. Writing with poor grammar slows up the news process as much as missing deadline. You need to be able to write clean, correct, concise and timely articles.
  2. You have to be excellent at task management. Again, time is always pressed and there are numerous deadlines. Missing deadline is just about as bad as cursing out your boss. At the same time, responding to reader/viewer e-mails is critical to bridging the gap between the ivory tower and your consumers. Balance that with diligent reporting and there is a rabbit hole waiting for you to slip up. Knowing how to circumvent the time-management pitfalls is invaluable to your employer.
  3. Continue reading “5 intangibles needed to be a top-notch journalist”

From the wire: Ethnic press urging immigration reform

News from the wire:

Ethnic media organizations are demanding urgent action on federal immigration reform — in the languages their audiences speak.

Over 275 broadcast, print and online ethnic media outlets have run or plan to run an editorial calling on the White House and Congress to “move decisively on immigration reform.”

The editorial was produced by California-based New America Media, an association of ethnic news organizations.

NAM New York Contributing Editor Marcelo Ballve (Mar-SELL-oh Ball-VEH’) says the effort represents a “coming of age” for ethnic media as a “collective actor in civil society.”

Among the outlets in New York City supporting the effort are the Weekly Bangla Patrika, Aramica, News India-Times, Nowy Dziennik and El Diario/La Prensa.

Why are the networks ignoring the New York Times’ Pulitzer?

I’m intrigued by the New York Times’ Pulitzers, specifically the one for investigative reporting by David Barstow.

Here’s the citation from the Pulitzer’s Web site on Barstow’s award-winning investigation:

Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.

Here’s the thing, I’m like many casual everyday citizens that don’t really care for the Pulitzers or any other journalism/arts related award unless I’m in the running. While these are the most prestigious of journalism awards, they still only reach a specific niche in our nation — journalists.

So there’s a lot left to wonder when every Pulitzer is dissected in the mainstream media on TV, in print and online while one story is ignored.

Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald gives a great synopsis of how the TV networks have virtually ignored Barstow’s investigation into their own wrongdoing. It’s the pinnacle of hypocrisy. Here’s a bit of what he wrote:

The outright refusal of any of these “news organizations” even to mention what Barstow uncovered about the Pentagon’s propaganda program and the way it infected their coverage is one of the most illuminating events revealing how they operate. So transparently corrupt and journalistically disgraceful is their blackout of this story that even Howard Kurtz and Politico — that’s Howard Kurtz and Politico — lambasted them for this concealment. Meaningful criticisms of media stars from media critic (and CNN star) Howie Kurtz is about as rare as prosecutions for politically powerful lawbreakers in America, yet this is what he said about the television media’s suppression of Barstow’s story: “their coverage of this important issue has been pathetic.”

I think you should read Greenwald’s story. It illuminates the problem better than I ever could.